“Death ends a life, not a relationship.”
― Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie
Truth: We are all dying…some earlier than others.
I’ve been thinking about this for sometime now, ever since I turned 40 a couple of years back. Last year, the thought intensified when I turned 44 – the same age where my own father passed away but still, we procrastinated.
Then, there were the high-profile tragic accidents in the news: the double tragedy involving two regional airlines and late last year, a family perished in seemingly normal early morning drive to KL leaving behind a sole survivor – their young 5 year old son. The state of security of the world these days isn’t helping either. But yet, I’ve procrastinated.
Truth: It’s uncomfortable (even taboo in some families) to talk about death. I gave many legitimate reasons for procrastinating – ‘busy’ being the most common. But death is no respecter of men. It can happen to anyone, any age and any time. Question is, when it happens, am I prepared to go? Beyond just ensuring our affairs are all in order, as a parent, the key concern would be who is going to care for my kids?
Truth: If you do not have a will done, then it will be up to the government to manage your estate. Is that what you want?
So, with these in mind, in both our birthday months last month (yes, we’re May babies), my wife, Angie and I decided to act on it and properly get our wills drawn up. Better late than never.
An Aspect of Good Parenting
Admittedly, it is still difficult to plan for contingencies, but when has parenting been easy? And THIS, I feel, is just another aspect of being a parent. Honestly, even as we are going through the process of getting our will done with a lawyer friend, we have never felt better. In fact, making a will is an extension of our parental responsibility. We certainly do not want to leave the welfare and future of our children to chance or fate as some like to call it.
Here are some factors we had to consider while preparing our will. The purpose of this post is not to dictate your individual arrangements as these decisions are highly personal but it is meant to walk you (our readers) through the thought process which one has to go through in drawing up a will.
Question: What would happen if we (husband and wife) both ‘go’?
The straight-forward and common approach when one spouse dies ahead of the other, we would will our assets to our surviving spouse (and other family members). The surviving spouse may assist us to administer our assets etc. But this is the unpredictable 21st century.
Two to go: Accidents can happen anywhere, right here in Singapore or on a simple road trip across to Malaysia. There is also an increasingly common trend for husband and wives to travel together on couple trips or business trips sans kids. The threat of global terrorism makes even staying in one’s country risky – taking public transport, attending mass events at crowded public places etc. Even though the likelihood of sudden death is rare, there may be that chance of being incapacitated to the point of not being able to make sound decisions ourselves.
At the point of death, all our assets are frozen. No banks can release monies or assets which include the documents stored in the bank vault unless an appointed executor turns up to handle the posthumous arrangements.
I don’t have much. Do I?
Question: What do we really have? It isn’t much. Right?
Couples (including ourselves) may think that they don’t have much and therefore when anything happens, it should be quite ‘straight forward’. But if you sit down and think about it, the average Singaporean will have these assets (see below). But beyond just assets, how about our liabilities? Funerary expenses, final hospital bills, final credit card bills etc. Are we expecting our young children to bear the burden of repaying these liabilities?
Here’s a list of ‘basic assets and liabilities’ which most of us may leave behind:
* A HDB or private property
* Bank account/ cash balances
* Insurance policy payouts
* CPF savings and investments
* Other investments: businesses, shares, funds
* Other assets: Car(s), belongings – high value furniture and jewelleries, gadgets etc.
* Liabilities: hospital bills, funerary expenses, credit cards, outstanding loans such as study loans, car loans, property mortgages etc.
Here’s another question: How much do we want our children to inherit and at which age? Do I want my children to have access to all our assets at age 21 – at the cusp of early adulthood? Is that wise? If not, how do we spread it out? How do we stagger the distribution so as to avoid them falling into the ills of the ‘new rich’? For us, we have agreed to disburse our inheritance to our children gradually at various milestones in their lives, age 21 (entering University), age 25 (striking out a career) and age 30 (starting a family). We have also indicated in our will that in the event all 4 of us (our entire family) perishes in an accident together (leaving behind no dependents), our inheritance will be donated away to our Church and chosen charities.
How about Special Needs?
There are among us friends who have children with special needs who are not independent and may need special care throughout their lives. This can can apply to our own aged parents who are dependent on us as their main caregivers. Arrangement for their welfare after we are no longer around need to be considered in the will as well.
Where to get our will done?
You can approach lawyer friends or financial companies like Rockwills to have your wills drawn up. NTUC Income also has will-making service that does not cost an arm or a leg. Charges for a basic will start from SGD700-1000 and up, depending on complexity. If you need a recommendation, we had ours done at Characterist LLC, Singapore with Mr. Adrian Wee. His services were prompt, professional and yet non-intrusive. He made the entire process of will-making so fuss free that it made us wonder why we took so long to make up our mind to get it done. Adrian also provided us many invaluable advice on who to appoint as Executor(s), Guardian(s) and other important decisions pertaining to the will.
How many wills should I make?
Husbands and wives should have their individual wills made.
How long is the process of making a will?
It took us less than a month to have our wills drawn up. We corresponded with our lawyer in emails before going down to his office to sign the wills.
Who will administer our will?
By now, you probably will realize that there’s much to think about when ensuring that things go well after we pass on. Now, to get you started, you have to decide who you can trust to administer all these arrangement after we pass on? This is one of the most difficult to decide. Firstly, if your children are minors like ours, then there would ideally be 2 separate parties involved: the Executor and the Guardian.
The Executor is the person who will administer the arrangements in your will. He/she basically represents you and decides on your behalf. You may have more than one Executor, in case the main Executor cannot perform the stipulated duties for any reason.
The Guardian is the person who will care for your children and makes decisions for their welfare on your behalf. Your children may not physically relocate to stay with the Guardian after your death but legally, any decisions or signatures will have to be approved by the Guardian. Similarly, you may choose to have more than one Guardian should the main Guardian be unable to carry out his/her duties when the time comes.
It is recommended that the Executor and the Guardian be either of the same generation as us or slightly younger (e.g. our younger siblings or close friends so that the likelihood of them outliving us is greater). However, it is not wise to appoint the same people as both the Executor and the Guardian as there may be a conflict of interest.
With that, the single most important criteria to decide who would be the Executor and Guardian is that they should be someone who will love my children as how we would love them. It may not be easy to determine who they really are. It is recommended that you speak to the potential Executors and Guardians to seek their consent before you list their names down.
Do bear in mind also that the Executor’s duties may have to be performed across many years – until the last of your will’s instruction is carried out. So, it is best that this is made known to the proposed Executor(s) of your will.
Where to store our will?
Now that the will is about done. The next question is where are we going to keep it? Here are some options for consideration:
If kept in a bank safe / vault, it may be subjected to the banks’ terms and conditions of access upon one’s passing – the bank may choose to freeze all your accounts and that includes access to the safe. If your documents are within, then there’s no proof who the Executor is. Using a photocopied version of the will is not permissible.
If kept at home, then where do we keep it to ensure the will is safe even from fire or theft? If you keep in a safe, how would you ensure that your Executor can access it after your death?
There are options to keep the wills in external security provider’s location (e.g. CISCO) through financial companies such as Rockwills. These companies will charge a fee for storage of wills for about S$100 per year or S$900 for a lifetime, per will. An access card is given to the Executor(s) who will use it to obtain the will from the company. Wills kept here are not subjected to the bank’s terms and conditions.
After some thought, we have decided to keep the wills in a safe place in our home for now.
As parents, we strive to give our best to our children when we are with them. We invest in time, money, effort and opportunities. It is important that we ensure that our love for them continues on in the unlikely event that we should die before they are of an independent age. It is imperative that our children do not become a liability to others but will grow to be a blessing to their community and society, with or without us. Making a will completes our charge as responsible parents. Have you made yours?
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. Views expressed in the article are based on our experience. Readers are advised to consult a lawyer when seeking advice on making a Will. Do note that CPF savings are not covered under a Will. You have to make separate CPF nomination for it. Hop over to our blog post on CPF nominations to read in detail.
“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
– Psalms 90:12 (NIV)